Monday, 9 April 2012

Spilling the Beans in Ipoh - 6 Apr 2012

Ipoh's familiar specialty - Nga Choy Kai or the Taugeh (Bean Sprouts) Chicken.

What else to accompany the poached chicken than the fresh, fat and crunchy Ipoh famous bean sprouts!! The bean sprouts are served blanched, with a dash of sesame oil, white pepper and soy sauce.

Ipoh is a well-known food haven in Malaysia, and most will agree that Ipoh's bean sprout is the best in Malaysia. The premium-grade bean sprouts come from the Buntong New Village, which is also my husband's hometown.

Growing bean sprout requires only water and more importantly, watering techniques. Madam Toon told us that there were at least 8 operators in Buntong. They were all family-owned businesses, and the three Toon brothers have been growing bean sprouts for more than 70 years. 

Bean sprouts are grown from black mung beans imported from Myanmar. The beans need to be watered every 4 hours throughout the day for 5 days, no shortcut, otherwise they will be not be fat and juicy. At the end of the first day, the beans will start to germinate.

On the 6th day, they are ready for sale to the local markets, restaurants and hawkers. Those on top are long and skinny, therefore considered low grade and fed to animals or fish, and those at the sides are sold to noodle shops. The best bean sprouts are those grown in the inner middle of the plastic drums. They are purchased by chicken rice and kuey teow sellers. 

The bean sprouts are sold all over Ipoh and other towns in Perak. It's not practical to sell to cities far away because the water will dry out due to the long journey and the costs are too high.

The open secret to Ipoh's bean sprouts is the underground water from the limestone hills surrounding the Kinta valley.

The bean sprouts cannot be exposed to sunlight and must always be under shade. Circular mosquito nets are placed on top of the beans and covered by gunny sacks.

Each plastic drum produces about 80 kg of bean sprouts. We checked with a chicken rice seller in Ipoh, he sells about 20 kg/day of bean sprouts on normal days, and up to 40 kgs/day during weekends and holidays.

In Buntong, the underground water sources near rock formations have found to be the best for growing bean sprouts. The rock formations were left behind from the mining activities in the area, now curiously home to pigeons, spotted also three lovely black-naped oriole birds (right).

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